Devoted to FDNY Since He Was 3

February 1, 2002

If it came down to playing centerfield for his beloved Mets or putting out fires, Michael Cawley of Bellmore would have choosen the latter, his brother, Brendan, said.

"When I was a kid, he used to tell me that I had to be a firefighter," Cawley's brother said. "When I asked him why, he told me it was because being a firefighter was the greatest job in the world."

Pictures of a 3-year-old Michael Cawley standing in front of a fire truck at Rescue4 in Woodside hang in his parents' Flushing home, a reminder of his early devotion to the FDNY.

Cawley jumped onto a fire truck from Rescue 4 on Sept.11, 29 years later. Assigned to Ladder 136 in Elmhurst, Cawley was putting in overtime at another firehouse on the night before.

"When the call came in to go to the World Trade Center, Michael was having breakfast with the guys from Rescue 4," his brother said. "I knew there was no way Michael would have missed that fire." He said his brother is the only firefighter from Queens who didn't belong to a special unit or Hazardous Materials unit who died in the terrorist attacks.

His brother said members of Cawley's firehouse needled him about missing a fire on his night off. "He used to get really upset if he thought he wasn't there for a fire," his brother said. "Especially a big one."

Born in Jackson Heights, Cawley, 32, graduated from Archbishop Molloy High School in 1987. Although he ran track there, his brother said, he didn't receive any awards for his athletic prowess when he graduated.

He was given instead the Marcellin Champagnat Award for his service to others throughout his four years there, Cawley's brother said. Cawley graduated from the State University College at Oswego with a bachelor's degree in political science in 1991.

Cawley had "finally bought his dream house" in Bellmore, his brother said. Construction jobs, bouncing at bars in the Hamptons and Manhattan, driving meat trucks at odd hours, and putting out fires helped pay for it, he said. "That house was his pride and joy," his brother said of the new four-bedroom home. "It always made him smile."

Cawley's smile was often followed by his favorite phrase, "it's golden," his brother said. "He always said that whenever he was happy or excited about something."

The only thing that came close to the size of his smile was its canvas. "I used to tell him that he had a big head with an even bigger smile," Cawley's brother said.

-- Nick Iyer (Newsday)